The First Large-Scale Strike by Public Workers

Amid noisy protest, the L.A. City Council — listening via earbuds — conducts its business in the shadow of the City Council’s famous meeting room. There, it’s free for the public to watch, hear, and speak with its members. And, with the exception of a couple of months every year, all that occurs in the council chambers is a public meeting.

On Nov. 9, the council convened behind closed doors for a budget hearing. In the midst of their discussion, a councilman approached the door to announce that he had a surprise for L.A. City Hall.

Councilman Paul Krekorian pointed to a map on the back wall of his room and told the city’s employees that they would soon be in a citywide strike. Then he stepped outside, and in the weeks that followed, city workers joined dozens of others across the United States in the first, weekslong, nationwide strike by public workers demanding better working conditions.

L.A.’s walkout was one of many in a series of strikes and protests that began in 2011 by public sector workers across the U.S. These included the teachers’ strike that began in West Virginia and spread quickly to other states. More recently, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has led a successful campaign for new contract bargaining, while the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) began its own strike with a contract extension. The strike in Los Angeles, however, was the first large-scale response to the demands of public union workers at home and abroad.

Krekorian’s walkout was an early signal from workers in Los Angeles that a prolonged strike, like the one at Chicago’s Cook County Jail following last year’s contract negotiations, might be the next step in the fight against what workers contend are unfair labor practices for government workers. These include working schedules that do not meet federal law, excessive workload

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